Craig Ferguson Producer Michael Naidus On Puppets and the Laidback Scotsman
Since Craig Ferguson took the helm of CBS's Late Late Show in 2005, the Scottish American comedian has steered late night into uncharted talk show waters full of inanimate sharks and Tim Gunn Aquaman skits. Dispensing the standard monologue jokes for afro wigs and the kind of Britney Spears lip-synch routines you used to practice in the mirror, Ferguson has reinvigorated the late-night format and deposited some much-needed silliness into the Tiffany Network. Two weeks ago (before that Alicia Silverstone power outage), Movieline sought out the Late Late Show's producer Michael Naidus, who kindly discussed Ferguson-behind-the-scenes and the refreshingly relaxed, puppet-punctuated talk show.
Craig's cold opens are pretty incredible especially considering the formal set-up of most late-night talks shows. He steps in front of the camera, greets the audience and then talks about anything from how everything sucks to the repercussions of making fun of celebrities. How much preparation goes into his openers?
[Laughs] Probably a lot less than you think.
I assume there are no cue cards.
No, no. Craig will come up with an idea for his monologue and go with it.
Who comes up with the ideas for the lip-synching routines?
During our morning production meeting, Craig might mention a song he has in mind for the cold open, and then we'll go through all of the steps to get the licensing for that song.
And those numbers are choreographed. Does he handle that himself? Are there rehearsals?
He'll usually pull everyone involved into his office for about an hour to rehearse. You'll hear the music outside and they work out a routine.
Who are the dancers? Professionals or are they staff members?
They're mostly staff.
And the guy who is always in the bondage costume?
[Laughs] That is actually my assistant. Believe it or not, he is really shy.
How many takes do you usually do for those numbers?
About two or three on a good day.
The show's puppets have really attracted a cult following. Whose original idea was it to incorporate the puppets into the show?
That was Craig's. What happened was he was sent a puppet and was just playing around with it before the show started and decided at the last minute to use it on camera. The audience really loved it and fortunately for us, this puppet company has sent us boxes of other puppets to use. It's been surprising.
How concerned are you with ratings and what Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live! are doing?
We're not worried about it. Obviously, we were curious to see how Fallon's show was going to work when it first aired. But we're not really worried about numbers, we just do our own thing.
What is the atmosphere like at the office? I imagine that sometimes producing a show every day feels like a a constant race to the finish line, without any winners.
[Laughs] That's awful. No, it's nothing like that. Everybody is relaxed. Craig walks around the office and talks to everyone, he knows everyone's names. It's not formal.
And you were at the Late Late Show when Craig Kilborn was hosting. Was the environment much different?
They're two completely different personalities, obviously, but it's always been relaxed around here. I haven't worked at other late-night shows, so I don't know how they work. I guess it was a little bit more of a 'guys club' with Kilborn, just because there weren't as many women on staff.
I've heard Craig Ferguson say on a few occasions that Betty White is his favorite guest. Do the producers on the show have their own favorite guests? People you know are always going to deliver solid stories?
We're lucky that we get a lot of great guests, and Betty White is definitely one of them. She is always so funny and so smart and Craig adores her. We get a lot of fantastic people though. We always like Neil Patrick Harris, Kristen Bell, Regis Philbin, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. There are a lot of them.